Episode 25: Anna Lappe: Climate Change at the End of Your Fork
Anna Lappe, author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and the national bestselling, Hope’s Edge talks about the impact of food and farming on climate change.
In this show, you’ll learn about the climate crisis on the end of your fork. This episode leaves you with 3 outcomes – You’ll understand the connection between your food and the climate crisis, you’ll feel empowered to make choices about your health and diet and be prepared to “go beyond your plate” to make boarder social change in the area of food and health .
Learn about CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) and many other tips about how you can support climate-friendly farming. Your soul will be fed and nourished as you learn how Anna’s defines hope, where she finds hope within the environmental and health crisis conversation and how biotechnology and biofuels impact us.
Meredith Medland: You’re listening to Living Green: Effortless Ecology for Everyday People. My name’s Meredith Medland and I’m your host. Today on our show we’ll be talking with writer and activist Anna Lappe. Anna is the author of the national best selling Hope’s Edge. We’re going to be talking today about Anna’s latest book Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. She is currently working on a book about the impact of food and farming on climate change, and on today’s show you’re going to learn about the climate crisis that’s happening at the end of your fork. You’ll also get tips about supporting climate friendly farming and you’ll hear inspirational ideas that will feed your soul.
Anna Lappe: You’d have to have been trapped inside a Hummer with the air conditioner on full blast for the past year to be out of the loop about the fact that there is a climate crisis, it exists.
Anna Lappe: One of the ways that agriculture and food is connected to the climate crisis is deforestation. Deforestation is a huge culprit behind growing greenhouse gas emissions. Well, why is deforestation increasing, why are we seeing such a prevalence of it in some of our most vital rainforests? The reason why is largely because of pressure from other business.
Anna Lappe: It’s very dangerous for us to put our trust and put our future into the hands of companies that have historically been really at the root of so much of the environmental devastation that’s connected to how we grow our food.
Anna Lappe: It’s really the idea of getting away from what I kind of think of as an addictive kind of farming, so most of the way we grow food in this country, increasingly around the world is what people like to call ‘industrial agriculture’, but really it’s a type of agriculture that’s addicted to a lot of things.
Meredith Medland: Anna, welcome to the show.
Anna Lappe: Thanks for having me on.
Meredith Medland: Alright, I’m happy, I just want to make the connection for our listeners that your mom was on this show about three weeks ago in episode 25 and that’s Francis Moore Lappe, and that you’ve done quite a lot of work together.
Anna Lappe: We have, and she said how much fun she had on your show and that I had to, I had to be on as well.
Meredith Medland: Alright, well in this first segment we are going to have fun and that’s going to be through education, so I’d like to talk about the connection between agriculture and the climate crisis, and, and first how is agriculture affecting climate change?
Anna Lappe: Well I think a lot of us are aware we’ve got a climate crisis. I mean I think we’re at the point now where you’d have to have been trapped inside a Hummer with the air conditioner on full blast for the past year to be out of the loop about the fact that there is a climate crisis, it exists and we’ve got to do something about it. But one of the things that I’ve been really stressed by is that even though more of us know that this crisis exists, that it’s a serious problem, I think that a very few people really understand what a huge impact agriculture and agricultural practices are having on the climate crisis. You could watch some of the big movies about climate change and, and see the credits rolling and still not really get this connection, so that’s what’s been inspiring me to learn more about it and to be working on this new project where I’m exploring those connections and talking about how, how can we support climate friendly farming.
Meredith Medland: How are you learning about it?
Anna Lappe: Well one of the things that I’ve been really excited to see is that there are increasingly more scientific studies coming our that are talking about the connections, and so a lot of it has been tapping into those resources and tapping into some of the leading scientists around the world who, who are, who are making this connection and then it’s trying to translate that science into language we all can understand.
Meredith Medland: And are those links or URL’s that you can share with our listeners?
Anna Lappe: Sure, one of the best connections that I could suggest is for people to go to the Food and Climate Research Network, and that’s SCRN, if you put it into Google you’ll find the website for that. And one of the things that I’m really discovering looking into all of this, this research is that the connection between the climate crisis and agriculture is a really, really serious one and yet even the studies that we have showing the connection almost underplay the real root of the crisis and the connection because a lot of the things that are contributing to the climate crisis can ultimately be traced back to agriculture, even if they don’t on the surface seem like they’re connected to farming, and let me give you an example. One of the ways that agriculture and food is connected to the climate crisis is deforestation. Deforestation is a huge culprit behind growing greenhouse gas emissions. Well, why is deforestation increasing, why are we seeing such a prevalence of it in some of our most vital rainforests? The reason why is largely because of pressure from agribusiness, and agribusiness holds the purse strings when it comes to what decisions are made about, about land use around the world, so you have this huge pressure on forests to be deforested for growing namely crops for feeding animals and increasingly the crops for biofuels. So that example, deforestation is one in which doesn’t necessarily come up on the agriculture ledgers, and yet it’s a huge, a huge contributor to the climate crisis.
Meredith Medland: Thanks for the example. I love selling this show with as much specificity as possible, so thank you for that. So, is it getting better or worse?
Anna Lappe: Well I think it’s both and. I mean, I definitely feel that at the same time that we are, things are getting much worse, you know, we are also seeing much more growing awareness of the, of the crisis, and one of the ways that it’s getting is worse is that what’s happening globally in terms of diet and diet choices is affecting this crisis at the end of our fork, and what I mean by that is increasingly in countries like China and India where there’s growing in equality and a growing, I’ll be it small, class of wealthy people, there’s increasing demand for the type of diet that we here in the U.S. consume, which is the high fat, high sugar, high salt and a lot of factory farms meat diet. And that diet is precisely the diet that is related to the crisis at the end of our fork, and so unless we see changes in that demand, there’s going to be increasing pressures for deforestation that I talked about and for the type of agricultural practices that have gotten us into such a mess.
Meredith Medlan: And will biotechnology save us, what, you know, biofuels?
Anna Lappe: Great question. I was actually just looking at the website for one of the organizations that is the, is the trade association for the chemical industry, the chemicals used in farming globally and also for agricultural biotech, and one of the things that you might think after you go visit their website is that…
Meredith Medland: Which is, what’s their website?
Anna Lappe: Well the organization is called Crop Life, which in the name that I find slightly amusing, they used to be known as The National Association for Chemical Manufacturers until they maybe had a consultant from a communications firm that suggested they change their name to Crop Life. And so you can find them on the web under Crop Life. But if you would go to their website, certainly you would leave the web pages of this trade association thinking, yes, biotechnology and biofuels hold the answer, and one of the things that myself and my colleagues have been saying for years and continue to say is that, look, these are the companies that have gotten us to this place where we really are on the brink of major, major climate crisis, major climate change and we certainly shouldn’t automatically trust these companies to hold the solutions, and what we do know is that there are incredible innovations emerging all across the planet using, using techniques that work with nature and with natural cycles to grow food with abundance, to grow food with high productivity without the possible and known consequences and side effects of, of industrial agriculture and biotechnology, and so I think it’s very, it’s very dangerous for us to put our trust and put our future into the hands of, of companies that have historically been really at the root of so much of the environmental devastation that’s connected to how we grow our food.
Meredith Medland: I appreciate that you’re the one doing research because there’s, there is so much to research out there. So thank you for that.
Anna Lappe: Well I should say, I should say, I’m counting on the network of researchers and scientists out there and really tapping their expertise to try to communicate these messages to people, so I rely on the hard work of scientists and researchers everywhere.
Meredith Medland: Awesome, collaborative effort. Well we’re going to take a break to thank our sponsors, but when we come back from the break we’re going to bring this conversation into a different gear. We’re going to talk about practical ideas on how to support climate friendly farming and we’ll also talk about climate friendly eating. And this is really important ‘cause our show is definitely about telling you as the listener, “Hey, here’s what’s going on, but here’s what you can do about it on a daily basis as just an every day person out there in the world.” So we’re going to take a break, thank our sponsors and we’ll be back right after this.
Meredith Medland: Welcome back from the break. My name is Meredith Medland and we’re here with Anna Lappe. Anna’s latest book is Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, and we’re about to talk about climate friendly farming. Alright Anna, so what is climate friendly farming, along with climate friendly eating?
Anna Lappe: Well climate friendly farming, and I’ll try to encapsulate it quickly, it’s really the idea from what I kind of think of as an addictive farming, so most of the way we grow food in this country, increasingly around the world is what people like to call ‘industrial agriculture’, but really it’s the type of agriculture that’s addicted to a lot of things. It’s addicted to chemicals, it’s addicted to using huge amounts of water and it’s addicted to using huge amounts of fossil fuel. And so climate friendly farming, I, would also, could also be known as sustainable farming or, organic farming practices also are types of climate friendly farming. It’s basically a way of growing food that’s free from those addictions, so it’s decreasing the amount of water that you need, it’s not relying on man-made chemicals, it’s working in harmony with nature, and especially it’s getting us away from factory farmed meat and raising livestock in factory farms.
Meredith Medland: Lets talk about that before we go on to the climate friendly eating about the livestock. I’ve listened to some other interviews that you’ve done on other shows, and I’d love to be more illuminated about beef and chicken and your viewpoints on eating meat.
Anna Lappe: Sure, and I, I try not to gross people out too much when we talk about these things but, but the way that we produce livestock in this industrial system is one of the huge culprits behind agricultures impasse on climate change, and if people listening want to really sink their teeth into this subject and really learn about it the very best resource out there is from the United Nations, a report called Livestock’s Long Shadow, and it talks about the contribution that just livestock is making to climate change, and one of the big reasons why livestock is a big contributor is that animals emit gas methane, and so that, there’s a lot of methane emissions that are connected to livestock production. But the other reason why livestock and this industrial system are such a huge contributor to climate change is that livestock is fed in these confined animal feed lots, and they’re fed animal feeds that have been grown with huge amounts of chemicals and have taken enormous amounts of resources to grow the feed that then goes into the livestock, which returns to us only a tiny fraction of the protein and of the energy that went into producing that meat. And so there’ve been some studies done that has analyzed this and suggests that every single American just had one meatless day a week, ate one day, cut out meat from their diet, that would be the equivalent of taking 5 to 8 million cars off the road.
Meredith Medland: Wow.
Anna Lappe: So I think that meat is definitely a key part of this and it’s particularly that feed lot animal, those feed lots that are a key part of this. So, when we talk about what’s climate friendly farming, it’s definitely not confine animal feed lots, and when we talk about what is climate friendly eating, it’s definitely trying to decrease the amount of meat in your diet, and depending on your own values and depending on your own dietary needs, that might mean cutting meat off entirely or it might just mean making a commitment to eating less meat.
Meredith Medland: Wow, and have you actually visited these farms? Have you ever been?
Anna Lappe: Have I ever been to a factory farm?
Meredith Medland: Yeah.
Anna Lappe: I, I had long, long time ago and I would love to, I mean not because it would be a pleasant experience, but because it would be really interesting, I would love to try to go to a factory farm. I haven’t been since, I haven’t been in many, many years. I have been to a lot of quite the opposite kind of farms, which are sustainable farms that, I’ve had the privilege of visiting sustainable farms all around the world, from West Africa to China to India, Brazil and across North America, so that I’ve had the privilege of doing and I think I should probably force myself to visit some more factory farms.
Meredith Medland: When, when you’re looking at meat in a supermarket and the meat is, what do they call it, well there’s organic, but there’s also the grass-fed is what I was thinking about…
Anna Lappe: Exactly.
Meredith Medland: How great is that meat anyway, I mean is it really, is your preference to cut meat out period?
Anna Lappe: Mm hmm. That’s a really good question and right now I’m actually, my current diet is cutting meat out entirely, so I don’t find myself faced with the dilemma of standing in front of the meat counter at my supermarket trying to make my way through all of the different labels that are out there. But I definitely encourage people if they are eating meat to look for that USDA certification for organic meats. There are a lot of different labels out there and some have greater trust than others, so the USD Organic Seal is a very good one, the Humane Society of the United States also has a very great seal that I’d trust if I were to being eating meat, and there’s still a lot of research to be done in terms of what is the carbon host print, so to speak, of grass-fed meat versus factory farm meat, but we definitely know for sure that it’s much, much less than the meat coming out of our factory farms in terms of the environmental impact, as well as in terms of the human impact of that production, so it’s definitely a better way to go. Still in this country we are eating way too much meat I think. I know from studies that nationally on average the typical American consumes twice as much protein as they need everyday, so there’s definitely ways to limit and to cut back on meat consumption no matter what kind of meat you’re eating.
Meredith Medland: Perfect. So depending on wherever you are on the continuum, if you have one meat free day, if we all do that together, that’s 5 to 7 million cars off the road.
Anna Lappe: That’s, that would be yes, a sort of, I mean I, some of these figures, you know, they’re definitely estimates, but they’re a way for you to conceptualize it by, there’s a, it’s a way for us to kind of wrap our mind around what is, what does this really look like and what might this really mean, and so obviously of course we can’t eat our way out of this mess, it’s much bigger than just what you or I put on our plate, but those choices that we make about what we put on our plate are an incredible reminder about the global ripples of our actions and so that’s where I feel the importance of the consciousness around consumption of food is about reminding ourselves every single meal, every single day, of the way that we are connected to the world through the food we eat.
Meredith Medland: Perfect. Are there other changes that you recommend people make in their diet.
Anna Lappe: Sure, and a lot of these changes we talked about in my last book, Grub, which are really about trying to do simple things that, like trying to eat in season as much as possible, trying to eat locally as much as possible, and so a lot of the impact on the environment from our food comes from the transportation of food all across the globe. It’s not the only reason why agriculture has an impact on the environment, but it’s certainly one of them. So, if you have a choice about what, what you’re eating for a given meal during a day, if you can choose seasonally, then that’s going to enable you to choose more local foods. So, for instance, I’m having a dinner party in a couple of nights and I’m thinking about what I want on my menu. Well, I love berries for desert as much as anyone, but I’m not going to have berries on my menu when I’m on the east coast here in the end of November. So I think that it’s really important to, yeah, eat in season is one of those tips about how to have a climate friendly diet.
Meredith Medland: I love it. My, my biggest tip is go to localharvest.org and find out what CSA’s are working within your community, so that’s Community Supported Agriculture, and I love it. I get, on every Wednesday, I get a green basket, that has a little thing to put money in it, of local produce, as well as eggs, and it’s from this really fun woman who looks like, sort of looks like a farmer, she’s kind of this rustic hippie and she drives around in her truck and does the deliveries and she knows where all the produce came from and she’s, it’s a little bit funny because I actually have been talking to her about creating a blog because she emails out massive amount of information three times a week on where the food is from and where the recipes are, and she’s not really connected in the digital age in the same way that a lot of the digital marketers are in my universe of friends and peers, and it’s so adorable, and so she’ll come and she delivers a basket and she’s in love with the food, and it’s such a joy to be able to use that food, we, and I just got new peppers that are, they’re kind of black dark peppers and she went into a, a whole email on those peppers and it’s really, really fun to get that food.
Anna Lappe: Yeah, that’s a great suggestion, and if people have CSA’s in their area, and increasingly more and more people have that as an option, that is such a great way to really connect with your food in your bioregion, it’s a great way to connect with the farmer, and localharvest.org is the number one place to find out about what you have in your area and that’s not just for CSA’s. You can also find at Local Harvest what your local farmers markets are, what restaurants near you are supporting farmers in the area. So it’s a great resource to actually tap into, how to find this food, how to connect with this food.
Meredith Medland: I also want to remind everyone that you have a voice in your supermarket. I do a lot of my shopping at something here in Santa Barbara called Lazy Acres, which is similar to Whole Foods. However, there is a local Mexican market really close to my home and I’ll go over there every once in a while and get apples, and it occurred to me, “Oh I should probably ask where these apples are coming from”, and so I just literally before our interview was over there, and I said, “Oh by the way, where are these apples from?” and he said, “Oh, they’re from San Muniz”, which is probably ninety minutes from here and it, I just thought, “Oh, that’s neat”, and I got some eye contact with the store owner and it made it feel really special, so I also want to remind our listeners that you have a voice and you can talk to wherever you shop about where your produce is from, and it’s a really nice piece of education to recognize what’s happening.
Anna Lappe: Exactly, and I think people would be surprised to know that not only can you have that connection with the store manager, but they actually really listen sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes they do and it sometimes doesn’t take even that many customers saying, “You know what, we want more local food on these shelves”, because store managers so rarely hear from their customers. I’ve heard of lots of stories all across the country of just a few friends getting together and going to store managers and seeing real results in terms of where the stores are sourcing some of their produce and where they’re bringing in some of their products and it’s, it’s really amazing how speaking up just in these really, really small ways can make a big difference.
Meredith Medland: We’re about to take a break but before we do that are there any additional resources in our listeners communities that they can use to make practical daily changes?
Anna Lappe: Well the other thing that I would suggest is thinking about if you are connected to an institution that finds food, how can you help that institution think differently about their food. So, I know that there is a huge effort underway in faith based communities to really connect the foods they buy with these values of local and a sustainable and a fairly made food, so if you are part of a congregation, finding out what, just what kind of coffee is served on, by your congregation, or if there’s a way for them to even join with a CSA so that the congregation is supporting a local farmer, there are a number of congregations that have actually partnered with farmers to bring healthy climate friendly food to their membership, so that’s one way, to think about what institutions are you part of. Are you part of schools, do you have kids in the local schools where you could talk to the schools about these issues and really see this is not just about you as an individual, but you as part of a community.
Meredith Medland: Thank you, thank you so much. My name is Meredith Medland and I’m here with Anna Lappe and we’ll be back right after this.
Meredith Medland: My name’s Meredith Medland and we’re here with Anna Lappe. Anna’s latest book is Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. She’s also written a national best selling book called Hope’s Edge with her mother Francis, Francis Moore Lappe, and she’s in the middle of writing a book on the impact of food and farming on climate change. Anna, with the mounting environmental and health crises, where are we finding hope?
Anna Lappe: Yes, I think that the question of hope is of course a really critical one, and I think it’s going to become even more so as there is even more of an impact on all of our lives by the climate crisis, and my sense of hope and my feelings about hope were totally transformed by the experience of writing that book with my mother. The book, we eventually named it Hope’s Edge and part of that transformation for me was that in writing the book we went all around the world, to India, Brazil, Bangladesh, Poland, France, places throughout the U.S. and we were exploring people who were part of moments that inspite of some of the world’s most incredible challenges to, in their lives, were, were really making real change and were actually also some of the most hopeful people I had ever met. And it was through meeting those people that my whole sense of what hope is and my definition of it totally shifted. Before I thought that hope was probably up there as the number one cheesy word in the dictionary for me, and I thought of it as just this kind of Polly Anna feeling, well you’d have hope if you weren’t actually aware of how bad things were because if you were aware then how could you possibly feel hopeful because, you know, aren’t things getting so bad. And when I met all these people around the world through this process of writing the book, I was really forced to challenge my own assumption of what hope is and where it comes from because these people were some of the most hopeful people I had ever met. And so all of a sudden I started having to ask myself, “Well then where does the hope come from?”, because their hope is not coming from the fact that they have it made, it’s not coming from the fact that they’re not up against just such terrible challenges, and what I realized through conversations with these incredibly courageous people is that their hope came from not calculating whether things were getting better or worse and then deciding whether they can or cannot feel hopeful, but that their hope came through the very act of taking action. And we say in the book that hope is more verb than noun, and it’s really that idea that through taking action you align yourself with a, and connect with, a movement of millions of people around the world who are actively part of trying to move our planet in a positive direction, and that therefore through taking action you create the energy of hope within yourself. And that’s my new understanding of hope that I learned from meeting all of these people around the world and that’s the hope that, that feeds my soul everyday, that’s the hope that gives me energy despite the bad news, despite the headlines, despite all of the grim realities that, that exist on the planet.
Meredith Medland: I haven’t hear that before and I really, I really appreciate that, and it reminds me of the phrase “Where attention goes, energy flows”.
Anna Lappe: Mm, mm hmm.
Meredith Medland: You know? So, I know that one person can make a difference, I’ve seen that proven over and over again and I know that you are also making a big difference and what I’d love for you to do is outline all the different place where people can reach you. I know, I’ll start off with one, which is smallplanetinstitute.org, which is a collection of all the different places where you’ve had your writing and there’s access to fantastic videos with you, with your mom, with the work that you’ve done with Brian and on your book. Can you, can you tell us a little bit more about where we can find more about you?
Anna Lappe: Sure, well Small Planet Institute is the home base for us, I should say. But if you want to learn about our book Grub, you can go to eatgrub.org, and if you want to find out about the foundation that we started to support these really amazing groups around the world that we write about in Hope’s Edge, you can go to smallplanetfund.org.
Meredith Medland: Perfect. And I watched some of your videos from overseas and all your travels and I really liked them, and I recommend that people watch them and go check them out, so, it was fun, fun seeing you in all your, your different, and I went through pictures, you’ve got tons of pictures up, it was really fun researching you for the interview.
Anna Lappe: Yeah, that’s great.
Meredith Medland: We talked a little bit before our interview about your outcomes and regular listeners to my show know that threeoutcomes.com is my consulting and accountability consultancy and one of my questions, whether it’s to Al Gore or Will Smith or people like you, is if you could create three outcomes what would they be?
Anna Lappe: And so you’re putting me on the spot, right? I’ve got it. I love that question, I think that, when we were talking about it before, I think that, it’s so rare that you kind of forced yourself to really conquertize what it is you’re trying to work on and so, and I also think that my feelings about kind of what are the three outcomes, they sometimes change and sometimes they even change on a daily basis, but I guess, you know, I think about my three outcomes on different levels, I mean I think I think about it, what do I want personally, and I, so on just a personal level I think that I want to, you know, do work with meeting and continue to have strong and beautiful personal relationships, but I think for all of us that are trying to make a difference in the world, it’s really important for us not to forget the value in paying attention to our own needs and our own happiness and our mental and physical health, and so that’s certainly one of my outcomes would be focused on that. And then, another outcome for me is just to feel more connected with and sort of joining forces with the people around the world that are helping everyday folks make the connection between climate change and agriculture. And then I guess the third outcome would be to also kind of throw in my lot with the many, many people around the world who are trying to figure out ways to grow, expand, support climate friendly farming everywhere.
Meredith Medland: Thank you. Thank you so much for those. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today and I want to make sure that our listeners if they want to get a hold of you they can go to smallplanetinstitute.org, and we also have an episode page for Anna’s show, so you can go to livinggreenshow.com and the links that we discussed in the show today, along with Anna’s bio and a description of the show are available there, and there’s also a link to Anna’s mom’s show, Francis Moore Lappe, as well, so if you want to find out more information about that, two fantastic women. Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you and I’m so glad you joined us.
Anna Lappe: Thanks Meredith.
Meredith Medland: Alright, thanks a lot. My name’s Meredith Medland. I’m the host of this show, Living Green: Effortless Ecology for Everyday People, and we’re here to illuminate the psychology of ecology. For texts and transcripts of this show and other shows on the Personal Life Media Network, please go to personallifemedia.com. If you’d like to reach me, you can go to livinggreenshow.com and check out my blog there, or you can email me at [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next week.